What Do People Like?

What Do People Like?

As I’ve been writing Pride and Prejudice adaptations for some years now, I’ve observed that there are certain qualities readers of the genre look for in a book—certain things make a book tick, like the internal workings of a clock. If a piece is missing, readers tend to ignore it. Through my limited observation of other authors (or as much as I can glean from them by watching rankings on Amazon) I think it is a common theme across all authors, and not limited to myself. I thought it might be a good exercise to go through and list some of what I have seen and solicit others’ opinions. Thus, in a very definite order, here are some of the things I’ve seen:

  1. Darcy and Elizabeth: this is one that will catch you every time. Readers of P&P want to read Elizabeth and Darcy, and if they don’t get it, your book is likely to be ignored. To date, the worst performing book I have written was my Lydia story. My recent release of the first of my trilogy has also been received with tepid interest, though that may be in part because there are still books to come. I have a friend whose sister wrote a Kitty story, and it was received about as well as my Lydia story. If you want to make waves, write Darcy/Elizabeth.
  2. I hesitate to call P&P fanfiction, as it’s gone past that. But if I compare it to fanfiction genres I’ve read at times, the books are by and large much more professionally written, even when they’re only posted on a site like fanfiction.net. Good grammar, proofreading, spelling, etc., is a must in this genre, whereas in Harry Potter fanfiction, for example, readers are much more willing to wade through something filled with errors if it’s a good story or has a good central idea. Part of that is, of course, the fact that if you’re publishing something and make it available for purchase, you’d best make it look as professional as you can.

  3. I have not been able to confirm this for other authors, but in my own works, I’ve seen a definite trend where a book is received better if I avoid the misunderstandings between Darcy and Elizabeth. There still have to be obstacles, but if those obstacles are more exterior to the couple rather than between them, that seems to play better with my audience. In conjunction with this:

  4. A strong villain. It doesn’t necessarily matter if the villain is one of the traditional villains such as Miss Bingley or Lady Catherine, but if you’re going to write a story where Darcy and Elizabeth don’t misunderstand each other, you’ll need someone else to create tension. Of course, it’s beneficial not to reuse the same tired old plotlines over and over again. For example, I’ve run Elizabeth and Darcy through the gauntlet of others trying to keep them apart, but if I were to have Elizabeth kidnapped every book, it would get old after a while.

  5. Don’t write angst for the sake of angst. This is one I’m most interested in, as I’m not really much of an angst writer. While a certain level of angst helps build tension, to me there’s nothing worse than a writer who belabors the point with misunderstanding after misunderstanding. It seems to me the books which have featured more angst have generally been more poorly received than those which don’t.

There are other things I’ve seen which I can include, but these are the biggest ones in my opinion. What do you think? Do you have something to add, or disagree with one of these? Please let me know!

I also wanted to drop a quick note to set the expectations of those who read The Heir’s Disgrace. I expect to release the next volume some time in the fall, now tentatively scheduled for the third week in October. I hope I’m not provoking too much weeping and gnashing of teeth with this announcement, but I have some other projects I need to concentrate on in the interim. No rotten vegetables please!

37 Responses to What Do People Like?

  1. I must have missed this post the first time around. I agree with all you said, Jann, and, by the way, you have written some of my favorite books! I agree with all your points–or at least they are true as to my purchasing choices. I appreciate your thoughtful in sight on the readers tastes.

    I do have one pet peeve about the sudden growth of JAFF market. I am disappointed by the explosion of erotica. I am not one who believe the stories have to be strongly cannon, but I think the sensual stories would have Jane Austen turning over in her grave. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with a tasteful and well written love scene. I love the books by Sharon Lathan and Linda Wells. However, the one or two more adult stories I’ve read all seem lacking in plot and concerned only with writing the sex scenes. I find it particularly distasteful when Darcy’s behavior is ungentlemenly or immoral. The other thing that disturbs me is that the authors do not always list in the subtitle that the book is for adult audiences, some of them bury that information at the end of the discription. I admit that I do not always read to the end if the blurb if the premise hooks me in the first paragraph or so.

  2. I am an aspiring author, so your insights are much appreciated, but you scared me to pieces with #1 — because the book I’m planning focuses on Anne de Bourgh. It starts during Elizabeth’s time in Hunsford and continues through E/D newlywed period. E/D will be important supporting characters. Personally, I love books about the minor characters. That’s what brought me to JAFF — I didn’t think I would like alternate E/D scenarios at first. (Now I love them.) But I’ll be an unknown author writing the type of book that you’re saying doesn’t sell because it’s not D/E — yes, this is making me nervous.

    I am somewhat reassured by the interest expressed in minor character sequels by some of the commenters, and maybe I can make it clear in the marketing that D/E will be also prominent in the book. Any advice? Reassurance? Help??? ; )

  3. I’m a reader first and I detest stories that are devoid of conflict. But with the way that saccharine stories sell, I should probably get on the bandwagon and write them LOL. On the flip side, my most angsty book is the novel that was number one on Amazon, Letter from Ramsgate. I’d say some of the angst in LfR was definitely for the benefit of readers who enjoy an extra dose of angst beyond basic conflict–it was aimed at them, since I’m one of them. So never say never! Of course, gratuitous anything will turn people off, so it’s a balancing act.

    As far as a D&E book goes, I totally agree, in fact, I once rewrote four chapters on my editor’s advice to use D&E POV instead of minor characters. All my books are D&E centric with early connection between them, but even so, the books with minor characters in lead roles are less popular. Put Darcy’s name on the cover and you have a hit!

    As a reader, I like a good old steamy scene, especially if there is D&E marriage in the book. Avoiding it is akin to fibbing in my books–they are very young and in love. A pity so many authors have shied away from this because of a group of overzealous readers that are probably in the minority. The old books by Abigail and Lory show gifted balance of this issue.

    Thanks for the article, Jann.

  4. What an intriguing post! I enjoy seeing everyone’s thoughts. I am in the minority with Vesper I guess! I don’t like P&P alternates, although I do like prequels, sequels, and parallels (from some other character’s point of view). I guess I am a purist that doesn’t like the original holy grail tampered with! 🙂 I am in revisions on my own Kitty story, and a good deal of it takes place on her visit to Pemberley so Lizzy and especially Darcy play important roles as Kitty finds herself and her own happily ever after. I have enjoyed some books I have read about Charlotte Collins, Mary, Lydia, Jane Fairfax, and I love Pamela Aidan’s trilogy. I am also soon to release a contemporary Austen-inspired novel with the main character being around Mrs. Dashwood’s age and relying on Austen’s wisdom as she seeks her own HEA. Such a world Austen created for us! I’m thankful for all the authors who keep this world alive and full of adventure. Read on and write on!

  5. Some my favorite JAFFs are “Elizabeth is not really a Bennet,” “Elizabeth practically runs Longbourn,” “Elizabeth runs away (or tries to) from Longbourn.” I prefer that they “get together” early on and work together towards a common goal, i.e., “Letters from Derbyshire.” If we readers want to rehash the Meryton Assembly, the Netherfield Ball, or the Hunsford Proposal, we can always read the original. That said, “original” is the key to keeping my interest.

  6. I like D&E but will read about anyone else as well. I do like when D&E are brought in to the story at least in passing (just so I can check in on how they’re doing lol). I read voraciously so I go through a LOT of books and a lot are Austen fiction stories, so I will read just about anything I can afford. I do like angst and suspense and I enjoy a good villain. My pet peeve is a villain who is completely over the top. One who is out to kill more than one character or who continually is doing really over the top horrible things. It’s rare to find someone, even a villain, who has absolutely no redeeming qualities. I avoid those authors. I look forward to reading the next book in your series!

  7. Jann – what terrific insight! I, for one, am almost always drawn to only Darcy and Elizabeth stories. Writing as Lily Bernard, my second book, New Beginnings, has its fair share of a villain and lots of angst, Reviews have be great and sales brisk, so I suppose what I’m saying is that I agree with you 100%!

  8. Jann,

    Fabulous and thoughtful post throughout. I always enjoy your storytelling. And, is that not why we read? To suspend our proximate realities? But, while the universes are necessarily reader-created, it is the author who controls the nature of the materials used…are they fresh or are they expected, tested, tried, and true? Is the author taking a risk to bring the reader to a different level of understanding? I, myself, started my Austenesque writing career because I read a few dozen ODC tales and started asking “what about Mary? Kitty? Lydia?” But, with the exception of #1, I find myself on board with the other 4. Strong plot and character development will offer a readable tale. I am not consciously avoiding Elizabeth and Darcy in the Wardrobe stories…and Vesper (I think I have hooked now…grin) is correct. But, for me as a writer, I find that I need to tell Mary, Kitty, Lydia, Thomas, and Frances’ stories as they grow, live, and love. The contours of the series have yet to be fully revealed. BTW…I do have my own conceits. As far as I am concerned, there needs must always be a ball!

  9. This is a fascinating post, Jann. Thank you! I agree that, with few exceptions, any JAFF that doesn’t at least mention Our Favorite Couple is going to be overlooked.

    As for angst/humor/suspense, my experience has been that it doesn’t matter what effect you’re looking for as long as it really connects emotionally. A humorous story needs to make the reader literally laugh out loud. An angsty story should be heart-wrenching. A swash-buckling Darcy should have the reader yelling along at the bad guy! As long as it connects emotionally, people will enjoy it.

  10. I agree, your points match my thinking. I am one of those that does not want to buy a series until it’s all available. I think I’m the only person that waited to read Harry Potter until the final book was published. I get annoyed when it isn’t clear that a book is part of a series until I get to the last page.

    In addition to your points, I find I’m generally not much for prequels or sequels. There aren’t a whole lot out there, so I may not be alone.

    For me, the key is the romance between Darcy and Elizabeth. I don’t care if there is little angst, high angst, uber-villains, common misunderstandings, etc, but if I don’t get wrapped up in the “feels”, then the story leaves me cold.

  11. Very informative. I’ve read some books on the other Bennetts, Mary and Lydia. It’s fun to read about the others too but Lizzy and Darcy are still my favs! I agree with your other elements you mentioned. A good villain is usually a good addition to a story.lol

  12. When I first started reading JAFF I ticked every box on your list. I looked for ODC stories with little angst and more sophisticated plots than just simple misunderstandings. Now, though, I tend to choose my JAFF novels based on the author. I now know which authors I trust to give me a good story featuring characters that are true to Jane Austen’s originals. I do read new JAFF authors, too, if excerpts I read look promising. Also, I enjoy reading about secondary characters just as much as I like to read stories about ODC. Thanks for sharing your observations; this was a very interesting post!

    • I agree. I was much the same when I started reading, but there are several authors that I have learned to trust to do good stories regardless. There are a few who have never published that I think would do well if they ever did.

  13. This is really insightful. I haven’t written a P&P modernization yet, just Persuasion, Emma, and S&S, but I have found many of these points to be true, though you articulated them better than I could.

    • In P&P I’ve found there is very much a formula, much though I don’t really like that word. The D/E is the big one–if you break that rule, you’re just asking for trouble.

  14. I think you are right on all your points for the majority of readers. I am not sure if the sales reflect this but personally I do not like when Elizabeth or Darcy end up with someone else or where the bulk of the story is about their love for someone else. I have read so many Elizabeth/Darcy stories that I find it refreshing to read books that focus on other characters so it’s a shame that these titles are often ignored by so many readers.

    • Definitely none D/E is a death knell for a story–I’m pretty sure if I wrote one it would do worse than my Lydia story. You can get away with pairing them with someone else at first and then moving toward D/E, but even that can be problematic if you don’t do it right. Cassandra was like this–Darcy married, his wife died, and then most of the story was him learning he can love again with Elizabeth.

      It is too bad. I had thought The Heir’s Disgrace would do reasonably well as it’s about Mr Bennet. (Most people like Mr. Bennet!) But while it’s not precisely a flop, it certainly hasn’t had the sales some of my others would have had. It is a shame others like it are ignored.

      • Don’t be discouraged about Heir’s Disgrace. It is very captivating. I am so excited for the sequel. October is a looong way away!

  15. Oh, Jann. I’m in agreement with four of these and hoping you are wrong about #3 as I have the third in my series that will be ‘Darcy vs Elizabeth.’ 🙂

    • I don’t necessarily think you have to avoid misunderstandings altogether. But I definitely have seen ore success if I get the together with relatively little trouble.

  16. I am in the minority – I now prefer to read non Lizzy/Darcy stories – made a vow that this year I would read all my unread Regency Lizzy/Darcy books before buying any other JAFF books (about 130 books). I am down to the last 6 (still have a lot of modern ones to read) and will soon be reading my Mary, Colonel, and other non P&P books. In the future this is probably what I will stay with, Though I expect to read some ODC books, but authors beware I will not be buying your book if you pair up Mary with Collins.
    My favourite genre is historical fiction so I will possibly start/continue the reading of some of the mystery/JAFF books

    • That’s interesting. From what I have experienced, you are really in the minority! But to each his own!

      I’ve actually got a mystery book outlined, though i’m not sure when I’ll start writing it. I do like historical fiction too, and plan on my writing eventually taking me in that direction.

      I have paired Mary with Collins in the past, but typically more as background information than as a major part of the story. But I mostly prefer to be a little closer to Elizabeth and a little less annoying.

  17. Jann, Thank you for coming right to the point(s) and calling it like it is. In my contemporary Mister Darcy series where D&E meet in Book 1 and don’t “click” right away, to teaming up to help the poor in Book 2, and sailing on to fall in love, marry and have a child by Book 9 – there is little angst just comical adventures. I am not a fan of angst but wonder if adventures with wonky villains count as angst? My Regencies are all standalone with a teeny touch of angst. By far and away my best seller has been Darcy and Elizabeth Serendipity. It too is low on angst but they do come to their love affair with differing expectations. Is that angst? Good luck with the next volume of The Heir’s Disgrace. Cheers!

    • In my opinion (and I freely admit I might be wrong) I think villains do more to raise suspense than angst. Suspense is fine–I mean, we all knew Luke was going to defeat the Emperor, but it’s the journey that’s fun, and the suspense of not knowing what will happen makes the story. Angst is a completely different animal, in my opinion. Not to say that it’s not valid as a plot, but one angst session after another is just to much.

  18. All five are pulse points for me. Yep… you nailed it. However, I do like angst… but can enjoy a story when angst isn’t so gut wrenching. I love humor… I love seeing Mr. Bennet be smart and proactive… I love a good Caroline set-down or at least see her out-smarted… especially in a creative funny way. This makes the fandom sit up and cheer.

    With regard to our Mr. Wickham… that guy is wide open… we have seen him in every conceivable situation… the good, the bad and the ugly. I actually have an idea for him… I’ve never seen it before. Do authors take suggestions or plot ideas? I am sure you have your own plot bunnies but I would love to see a certain story and it is rattling around in my head for this guy. I think you gave me the notion due to your own handling of this character… so it is your fault.

    I just want D&E to be together, to fight together, to out smart the villain… you get the idea. I’ve read too many books that didn’t unite them until the very last paragraph and i didn’t get to enjoy them. That… I do not like. It makes the story feel like the author went… whew… that’s done and then quit. NOPE…

    Sometimes if I know there are going to be several in a series… I might wait before I purchase because I don’t like to wait between stories. No offense… but I have waited years… between books… shudder. So, I might put a book on my wish list and then grab them later… especially if there is a sale or discount or launch with a reduced price. I have to watch my book fund. Blessings on your launch of new work and those that are still a WIP. This was a delightful post and thought provoking on what makes JAFF tick. Thank you.

    • Yes to all you said. I like to inject humor into my stories, though I don’t really write only comedy. Series can be difficult, and I figure that’s one of the reasons why the response to The Heir’s Disgrace has been so tepid. (The other, of course, being that it takes place in a large part before Elizabeth is born.)

      As for ideas, yeah I’m open to taking fan ideas. You can find my contact information on my author page on Amazon, or simply shoot me a FB message. I’d be happy to talk about it!

  19. I’m in total agreement on point number one. We’ve done quite a few stories that are about other characters, though not the sisters. Wickham, Georgiana, Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Younge, Anne, Miss Bingley… I’m probably missing some. You could graph reader interest vs how much Darcy and Elizabeth we have in each of those. Mary Younge, which I think is solid, interesting book, has the least Darcy and Elizabeth and the fewest readers. The exception might be our first person Mr. Collins story. People seem to like that one.

    As for angst, neither of us are fans. We haven’t experimented with it much. So, I don’t have a basis for commenting.

    To your other point, about misunderstandings. I see what you’re saying. I’d put that more in line with what you said about angst. Just don’t have a misunderstanding for the sake of it. It has to be a really good one (and I’m definitely not saying we’ve always succeeded with that). I’m not ready to give up on misunderstandings 🙂

    • The angst usually comes from the misunderstandings, but authors do find other ways to ratchet it up. The funny thing is that some of the stories I feel were my best might not have done as well as I thought they should because they weren’t D&E-centric. If you even fail to inform the reader of the fact that the story is about D&E in the blurb, people might not read it. That’s what happened with my Wickham story.

  20. I agree with your thoughts. My favourite stories are about Darcy and Elizabeth where they get together early on and deal with adversity together.
    I am not a huge angst lover but can deal with some angst, preferably short lived. I too prefer stories which don’t have one misunderstanding after another until the last two or three pages when they finally realise their love for each other.
    I do enjoy reading a number of chapters where they are mostly living in wedded bliss.
    I also find I prefer it when Elizabeth is not fooled by Wickham and prefers to believe that Darcy is the better man.
    So…….. you now have the plot for your next story and I look forward to reading it 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Lol! Yes sir! (Salutes) I’m with you on that. I can take some angst, but I’ve read stories where the misunderstandings keep coming and it’s nothing but angst all the way through. Definitely not my cup of tea.

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